Fantasy Football Intelligence: The “B” Teams
August 5, 2019
How many times have you heard something like this?
“Team X has a record of 30-2 over the last two years when they run the ball at least 20 times.”
Gee, then why the hell don’t they just run it on their first 20 offensive plays and cruise to victory from there?
Because they run more when they are winning – they don’t necessarily win because they run.
Cause and effect. Stats don’t occur in a vacuum.
The NFL teams and players are trying to win football games; to them fantasy production is incidental. If you are not clear on winning and losing football games and how it influences game flow, you won’t be successful in fantasy. You will be chasing stats instead of letting them come to you.
The last blog on the “A” teams (10+ wins/likely playoffs) as well as this one and the next focus on the teams and how they are likely to perform at their primary goal – winning. We discuss the big picture for each team and then begin to assess the fantasy prospects of its players if the team fares as expected. It is only after we understand the big picture that we can predict the characteristics of individual performance.
The “B” Teams (2018 record in parentheses)
Atlanta Falcons (7-9) – After the Patriots rip out your heart, stomp it flat and then moonwalk over it in the Super Bowl, history indicates that it takes teams at least a year to recover. Dan Quinn committed coaching malpractice in the fourth quarter by letting Matt Ryan pass after Julio Jones made the amazing catch that should have put the game away. Last year Atlanta’s young defense which looked up and coming suffered a rash of injuries. Given the time to regroup mentally and physically, the Falcons will be better this year and should battle New Orleans for the division or a wild card. They will have a better offense than at least four of the “A” teams, and with Dirk Koetter as the new OC, they may be more pass heavy than last year. Julio Jones will be the first Falcon off the board. He’s good for 110-120 catches and 1,500-1,750 yards. TDs are where he gets tricky. Jones did not reach the end zone in the first seven weeks last year and the Falcons famously have trouble getting him the ball in the red zone. Nevertheless, he scored 8 TDs in the last nine games, improving on his 3 TDs from 2017. It comes down to your scoring rules. He’s a PPR god and he had ~100 yards more than any other receiver last year which is worth another 1.4 TDs. Unless your rules are TD heavy, Julio is a top 5 receiver. Devonta Freeman could provide value. He was a yardage and TD stud in 2017 before losing last year to injury. If you can draft him as a high end RB2 you could be in great shape. The injury history and the likelihood that Atlanta will spell him with another back could drop him to the late 3rd round, early 4th round. If Freeman gets hurt, his backup should bring value. Ito Smith has the inside track on that spot, but there are other backs in camp who could pass him. If you have the roster space to handcuff Freeman, you should, but don’t determine who that handcuff should be until after the third preseason game. Calvin Ridley had 3 TDs and 146 yards in week 3 last year and accounted for 6 TDs weeks 2-4, getting him rostered in most leagues. He was much quieter after that but managed four more TDs and finished with over 800 yards as a rookie. I like him as a high end WR3, maybe a back end WR2 in non-PPR. If Jones or Ridley gets hurt, or if you need a fill-in, Mohammad Sanu is an effective slot receiver, especially in the red zone. Matt Ryan had 2+ scores in 11/16 games and 39 total TDs. That total includes 3 runs (none in 2017) and 1 reception, both of which are unlikely to recur. Ryan looks like a consistent, durable top 5 QB. Austin Hooper’s #’s were nothing to write home about last year, but he continues to improve and with Koetter coming over from Tampa Bay, I expect to see Hooper more involved in the offense. Atlanta’s defense bears watching, they are at least a solid platoon option and if the offense is loaded, they could face good situations when they are ahead.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6) – They are well coached, but there are a lot of question marks. Traditionally the team is led by its defense, but Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley among others, have moved on, likely weakening the unit. They signed Earl Thomas, but he is past his prime. The offense is transitioning to a run driven, low risk, heavy option philosophy and I’m not sure any of it other than the kicker will have fantasy value. (Justin Tucker will be covered in a brief kicker discussion later in August.) In the 7 games Lamar Jackson started, the team went 6-1, but he only had 2 scores in three of the games and four of his nine scores in that span were runs. The team actually scored more points per game when Flacco played QB. Jackson is a great runner but a suspect passer. He will probably generate more buzz than points. When the Chargers saw him for a second time, they shut him down. Furthermore, if Jackson gets hurt, RG III is the next man up and he probably won’t last long.The Ravens signed RB Mark Ingram from the Saints and he may get more opportunities out from under Kamara. However, Jackson could vulture a fair amount of his scores and the Ravens may choose to split time with Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.2 YPC for them last year. With Jackson throwing only 20-30 times a game, I would stay away from anyone who catches the ball. If forced, consider TE Mark Andrews as a fill-in or backup. The Ravens defense will probably spend too much time behind to be as effective as they’ve been in the past.
Carolina Panthers (7-9) – The Panthers are a well-coached team and if Cam Newton’s health and new throwing motion was more of a known entity, I’d feel better about their chances to make the playoffs. As it is, they feel like a .500 team. On the fantasy side though, Norv Turner’s offense has some intriguing possibilities. The surest thing is Christian McCaffrey. He broke out as a top 5 RB, maybe #1 in a PPR format. There is some concern about workload relative to his size and Carolina has said they want to “limit his plays, not his touches”, but regardless, his floor is over 100 total yards/game, 80 catches and probably 9 TDs. He is consistent since he can be deployed as a runner and receiver, thus he is very difficult for a defense to take out of the game. The Panthers have two fast young receivers. At least one will probably be a fantasy starter. My bet is on D.J. Moore who racked up 788 yards receiving and 172 rushing, playing more as the season went on. He only scored twice, but he does most things well. If not Moore, then Curtis Samuel will have value. He hit paydirt five times, including on two runs, and he is faster than Moore, but less polished. If Newton is really good, they may both be valuable. Cam Newton had 2+ scores in 11/13 games, but fair warning, he has not always been so consistent. His passing remains a question mark, but 500 rushing yards and 4-5 rushing TDs make up for a lot. He should be the 9-12th QB off the board depending on scoring rules and how you feel about his health. If you draft two QBs and can live through an injury, Cam has high upside. The golden years are behind TE Greg Olsen. Between his recurring foot problems and the restructured offense, he is no more than a backup or bye week fill-in at this point. Carolina’s defense isn’t top 12 but can be used in specific weeks.
Cleveland Browns (7-8-1) – The Browns won the offseason and I bet the NFL wishes they held off a year and had them on Hard Knocks this year. The Browns will probably have as many players on fantasy rosters as any other team, maybe more. Yes, the Browns. It may be the first time in the computer age of fantasy football that someone has typed that sentence. Vegas ranks them as the 10th most likely to win the Super Bowl. They will be entertaining and they will be pretty good, but they have received so much buzz that some fantasy owners will overvalue their assets. I believe they are an 8 or 9 win team that has playoff upside. Here’s why I’m less bullish than conventional wisdom: (1) Tougher schedule: unlike years past, the Browns are not playing a last place schedule. They were 1-5 against playoff teams last year. As mentioned in the first blog, the first eight games include both Super Bowl teams, Seattle, and road games @Jets, @49ers and @Broncos, the difficulty of which is not reflected in their 2018 records. The good news is that the back half is much easier. If the team comes out of Denver on 11/3 at 4-4 or even 3-5, they could be set up for a good second half. (Note: If they do start slow and players are underperforming, there may be some buy-low opportunities on good players.) (2) Rookie coach: Until now, “Interim Offensive Coordinator” was Freddie Kitchens’ highest title in the NFL, and that was for a partial season. He has a good relationship with his QB, but this is a young, brash team dealing with expectations for the first time, so the coach merits a caution flag. (3) Offensive line: The line seemed to solidify in the second half of the season but they still could not run consistently. They lost their best guard in the Odell Beckham trade and the tackles are suspect. After Kitchens took over the offense the team was very pass heavy. Mayfield is very good on the move and he will have to be. He put up 2+ scores in 9/14 games but got better with each game. He will be a fantasy starter this year, ranking somewhere between 7-10 depending on your rules. Cleveland’s RB situation is tricky. First, they are not a great run blocking team. Second, leading rusher Nick Chubb had 5 TDs from inside the 5. Mayfield threw 8 TD passes inside the 5, including 4 one-yarders. So they are not trying to move people off the ball. Chubb averaged 5.2/YPC and had 10 total TDs, but three were on 40+ yard runs which is not likely sustainable. Still, Chubb would be at worst a high end RB2 except for the fact that the Browns will be adding Kareem Hunt to the mix after his eight game suspension. The ball distribution in the second half is highly uncertain. If Chubb or Hunt gets hurt, the owner of the other will have a highly valuable asset, but with both healthy their values take a hit. Chubb will surely be drafted high. I’d draft him as a low end RB2 but someone else with a more week-to-week strategy will likely take him sooner. In big roster leagues Hunt will be drafted and stashed and could be a meaningful addition, returning when Cleveland’s schedule softens, but again, it is a dart throw until we know about the workload split. Odell Beckham Jr. is a WR1, the #7 or #8 receiver and a monster talent, but from a consistency standpoint he is a cut below the top 6 (Hopkins, Adams, Thomas, Julio, JuJu and A.B.) because their target share is much more certain. Mayfield is an upgrade from Manning for OBJ, but Baker is known for spreading it around and finding the open man. Odell will be the #1 guy, but Mayfield has plenty of weapons and won’t force the ball into coverage. I’d draft OBJ with an expectation of 1,200 yards and 7-10 TDs. Jarvis Landry will get drafted, though unless you are using PPR, his 1,000 yards and 4-6 TDs will be pedestrian. 80-90 catches in PPR adds to his value. David Njoku is a back end TE1, but with so many weapons in Cleveland, he will probably have a lot of quiet weeks. Still, if you are looking for a starter heading into the playoffs, his matchups look good. Cleveland’s defense is usable in a stream or platoon and will be worth starting quite a bit in the second half.
Houston Texans (11-5) – This team has a lot of good players in real life and fantasy. They battled through injuries and put up 11 wins last year. Bill O’Brien may be turning into the best branch of Bill Belichick’s coaching tree. In fact, there are New England roots in the organization and they tried to hire Nick Caserio, the Patriots’ Director of Player Personnel as GM this summer before being blocked by New England. The Texans are operating without a GM this season while Caserio plays out the last year of his contract in New England. To be continued. The reason I have the Texans closer to 9-7 than 11-5 is their schedule. In addition to expected improvement from division foes Jacksonville and Indianapolis, the Chargers, Patriots and Chiefs are all on the schedule. The schedule shouldn’t frighten you off their fantasy assets. The Texans will probably have to be aggressive on offense to keep up with some of these teams. Durability is a question mark for Deshaun Watson considering his two torn ACLs and crappy O-line. That said his upside is high and other than the deepest leagues, finding quarterback replacements is one of the easier things to do in fantasy, so draft him aggressively. Watson played all 16 games last year, but only had 2+ scores in 8/16. That said, he had at least one score in all games and chipped in 551 rushing yards. 5 of his 31 total scores were runs so if you have 4pt TD passes, Watson’s production improves relative to most competitors. If he stays healthy, he is in the top 6 fantasy QBs. Lamar Miller is like a bad burger that you keep eating even though it doesn’t taste that good. Every year his situation gets him drafted as a RB2 and he disappoints. Houston does not pound the ball in the red zone, they don’t give Miller a ton of work (20 touches only 4x last year) and Watson had as many rushing TDs as he did. He also gets nicked up, missing two games last year and spending time on the sidelines in others. Draft him as nothing more than a RB3 so you can only be pleasantly surprised. If someone wants him as their RB2, wish them luck. Right now they are on the hunt for a backup having released their other serially disappointing back D’onta Foreman (who landed in Indy). De’Andre Hopkins is a top 3 WR1, maybe the first off the board. He gets a huge target share and catches everything near him. He was the top scoring WR in fantasy last year with Watson for all 16 games, but even with multiple QBs in 2017 he still had 13 scores and nearly 1,400 yards. By the middle of the first round, he should be considered, especially in PPR leagues. There will be at least one other productive Texans WR and it will be either Will Fuller or Keke Coutee. Fuller is faster and has had some great games with Watson, but has had a hard time staying healthy. Coutee is a health risk as well, missing 10 games last year with hamstring issues. He’s not as fast as Fuller, but he works well underneath and may pick up more catches than Fuller. This a case to keep an eye on training camp and make the call between the two as late as possible. Unfortunately, it looks like the plan is to keep Fuller out of the games so it may be a crapshoot. The Texans don’t have an obviously draftable TE. Houston has some great personnel on D. They are not top 5 overall but are likely 10. They would be effective in the right platoon with Jacksonville (2x), Oakland, Tennessee (2x), Baltimore and Tampa Bay on the schedule.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – I was surprised to see a team run by Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone devolve from a group that took the Patriots to the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship in 2017 into a bunch of mouthy idiots reminiscent of any Rex Ryan coached team. With Jalen Ramsey showing up for training camp in a Brinks truck this year, I’m not sure if any lessons have been learned. Nevertheless, they upgraded at QB and should be healthier, so I see them getting back to 7-8 wins. They also have terrific defensive personnel, so if the offense can do marginally better, they should find another 2-3 wins. Despite the improvement, there is not much here for fantasy. Nick Foles is a huge improvement at QB over Blake Bortles, but that is like declaring him the valedictorian of summer school. He’s no better than a backup in a 12 team league, if that. Maybe if new OC John DiFillippo (he worked with Foles in PHI) has him passing more than expected, he can be a bye week sub. RB Leonard Fournette may be drafted too soon by someone expecting more of a bounce-back. Fournette missed half the season last year and didn’t look great when he played (3.3/YPC). If your league is TD dependent he has more value, scoring six times in the eight games he played last season. In 2017, he had over 1.300 total yards and 10 TDs but was still only 3.9/YPC. If you can get him as an RB2 somewhere around pick 30, that sounds about right. (Note: he doesn’t catch much, so drop him down in PPR.) Dede Westbrook is the most talented WR but is no better than a WR3 until we see what the Jags passing game looks like. There are a stable of other unexciting WRs not to draft – Chris Conley (from KC…didn’t bring Mahomes with him), Keelan Cole (had a monster game in wk2 vs. Pats then disappeared), Marquise Lee (showed some consistency in 2017 but coming off knee surgery) and DJ Chark (generic deep threat). If someone flashes in the first couple weeks, that is what the waiver wire is for, but other than Westbrook, you can probably find better upside late in the draft than any of these choices. Jacksonville doesn’t have a draftable TE. The Jags defense should bounce back. They were first off the board in most leagues last year and they haven’t forgotten how to play. They should return to a top 5 unit based on the number of playmakers they have. If they slip far enough in the draft they could return value.
Minnesota Vikings (8-7-1) – They had an up and down year last season, firing their OC (John DiFilippo, now in Jax) in midseason. They signed Kirk Cousins and let him sling it, leading to a top 10 passing offense, but they were unable to run. In fairness, Dalvin Cook missed five games with a hamstring and coming off a knee injury from 2017 didn’t round into form until late in the season. This season HC Mike Zimmer intends to run a more balanced offense with Cook as his feature back. They should still end up on either side of .500, but how they get there will probably be different than last year. Kirk Cousins threw for 2+ scores in 10/16 games and had 31 total scores. It wasn’t working for the Vikings however, as he also threw 10 picks and lost 7 fumbles (something to consider if you have negative points for turnovers). Cousins averaged almost 100 fewer passing yards in the second half than he did in the first half. Don’t draft him as your starter. Dalvin Cook will be a RB1. He will go late 1st, early 2nd round and may be one of the few backs who will play all three downs. The Vikings may look for a back to spell Cook or steal some goal line work (Latavius Murray signed with NO in the offseason). Even so, 1,200 yards and 10 TDs seems like an expected case for Cook with the opportunity for upside. The good news about Vikings receivers is that Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs get a huge share of the targets and both went over 100 catches and 1,000 yards last year and both scored 9 TDs. The bad news is that they combined for 33 catches, 389 and 3 TDs in the last month of the season. As the Vikings offense became more balanced, they faded. I would expect 20% less production from each of them this season. Thielen has a little more PPR value and Diggs may have a little more TD upside. Thielen is a high to mid WR2 with Diggs a bit lower. Kyle Rudolph is a back end TE1, but the Vikings looked at trading him in the offseason and drafted Irv Smith in the 2nd round before committing to Rudolph. He is very TD dependent and I would rather choose someone else with a bigger hand in the offense and more upside potential such as O.J. Howard (TB) or David Njoku (Cle). The Vikings have solid personnel on defense and if the balanced offense results in fewer turnovers they will have a nice year. Also, they face a number of bottom half offenses. They are a top 5 option.
New York Jets (4-12) – The Jets have been a dysfunctional joke since the back half of Rex Ryan’s tenure, but laugh at your peril this year. They still have a few questions, but the Jets have a lot of pieces in place and a mostly favorable schedule. I’m pegging the Jets to double their win total and get to .500. New HC Adam Gase was the hot offensive coordinator before Shanahan and McVay made the trend go mainstream. He had a reasonable record in Miami considering he couldn’t keep his QB healthy; he was .500 in Tannehill starts. There are some questions about him as a leader of men and there are rumblings that he got former Jets GM Mike MacCagnan fired and alienated Le’Veon Bell by claiming that MacCagnan paid too much for him. I choose to believe that he can bring the sum of the parts together and the Jets will have a good (for them) season. The Jets had a lot of cap room and used it in free agency. The biggest signing for fantasy purposes was Bell, who was a top 3 back in Pittsburgh. His upside isn’t as high as a Jet, but he is likely a back-end top 12 running back, placing 8-12 depending on your scoring rules. He has a history of getting nicked up and he sat out a year, but he isn’t dramatically riskier than the other top backs. The Jets upgraded their interior offensive line. This will better allow for Bell’s hesitation style, which would have been a problem behind a porous middle. They are still not nearly as good as Pittsburgh’s line and the tackles remain suspect. Also, Gase has a spotty record with RBs, though in fairness he never had one as talented as Bell. I’m betting he is a smart enough coach to use the assets he has. The Jets have a bunch of backs behind Bell and there is no obvious handcuff at this point. WR Robby Anderson could benefit from the rising boats around him. He is not a volume machine, but he gets open and had six scores in 14 games last year. If Gase gets QB Sam Darnold to the next level, I could see Anderson as a solid WR3 with WR2 upside. The Jets signed slot WR Jamison Crowder from Washington. Expect him to lead the team in catches, but he doesn’t have much history in the red zone. The other WR is Quincy Enunwa who missed five games last year after missing all of 2017. Wait and see with him. QB Sam Darnold is the key to the Jets season. In order for the Jets to double their wins, he will have to take a big step up and I believe he will. Management partially based the decision to hire Gase on the rapport he displayed with Darnold so clearly he is comfortable. In 13 games last year, Darnold had 2+ scores in just six games. He also threw 15 picks (consider if your league has negative points for turnovers). He came on late in the year however and has a far better offensive coach and supporting cast. He isn’t top 12, but I’d draft him as a backup over Cousins, Allen, Trubisky among others based on his upside. TE Chris Herndon flashed some skills last year and has good chemistry with Darnold. Unfortunately, he is suspended for the first four games. Similar to Darnold, if you draft two TEs, Herndon could pay dividends. Bell’s signing captured the headlines, but LB C.J. Mosley was as big a signing and 1st round pick Quinnen Williams is a difference maker in the middle. Consequently, the Jets defense will improve under new DC Gregg Williams. The Jets already have good safeties and serviceable corners. With a last place schedule that includes Mia (2x), Buf (2x), NYG, Was, Oak and Cin, the Jets D will be better than expected and a useful platoon/sub defense in fantasy.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1) – The Steelers have moved on from last year’s strife and turmoil, but they also moved on from two of the most talented players in the league, Bell and Brown. Even without them, they still look like an 8-10 win team. They are a strong organization that rarely slips below .500. Quick quiz – who led the NFL in passing yards last year? Also, who had 37 total TDs last year, Aaron Rodgers or Big Ben? Yes, Big Ben is the answer to both questions. Without Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers threw the ball like crazy. It will probably continue, so if you miss out on the top tier, you can do much worse than Roethlisberger and you can probably steal him five rounds later than Mahomes and Luck. He had 2+ scores in 11/16 games and at least one TD in all games. James Conner proved himself a reliable RB1 with over 1,400 yards and 13 TDs. He may play less on obvious passing downs than he did last year, but he should be the 5th-7th RB off the board. The #1 WR in Pittsburgh will be Juju Smith-Schuster who is good for 100+ catches, 1,300 yards and 7-10 scores. It remains to be seen how much of AB’s workload he will add, and what the effect will be of him being the focal point of coverage, but the above looks like his expected case. Once Hopkins, Thomas, Hill and Adams are off the board, Juju is in the discussion. I would slot him after Julio and before or after Beckham depending on whether his 100+ catches will help you in PPR. The second receiver in Pittsburgh will have value. James Washington has more upside, Donte Moncrief has a track record. Keep an eye on camp and we will make a late call on this battle – the winner could be a solid WR3. TE Vance McDonald is a quick pass catching TE with suspect hands. He is a back-end starter/backup who is worth a flier since Pittsburgh’s red zone pass distribution is in flux with AB in Oakland. Pittsburgh’s defense can get to the QB. They didn’t get a lot of turnovers last year so they may be undervalued.
San Francisco 49ers (4-12) – The Niners are my other pick to double their win total. Benefiting from a last place schedule and the return of their starting QB, Kyle Shanahan should have more success this year. The team finished 2017 strong with Garoppolo but slipped back last year in his absence. If the offense returns to 2017 levels, they will do much better than last year’s four wins. The first 49er to get drafted will be TE George Kittle. He has less pedigree than Ertz and Kelce and he only scored 5 TDs last year, so he ranks below them, but he gets downfield better than both. If he adds red zone to his skill set, he could end up as #1. He benefits from the Niners’ lack of a #1 WR. They have a crew of quick, smallish, nondescript WRs. Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor and Marquise Goodwin are the top three, along with 1st rounder Deebo Samuel, who is a little stronger on his feet than the others but needs to learn to play in the NFL. Pettis is probably the most draftable of these WRs and someone will take him, but keep an eye on targets the first few weeks and be ready to make a waiver move if one of the others emerges because this should be a good offense. The Niners have a crowd at RB, which is never good for fantasy, but should get the job done for them in real life. Last year they overpaid for Jerick McKinnon, ostensibly a 3rd down back who blew out his ACL in camp and missed the season. Enter undrafted Matt Breida who was effective but missed two games and parts of others with an ankle injury. In the ten games Breida was fully healthy, he averaged 90+ yards and totaled 5 TDs. He’s explosive but small, and unlikely to be a bull at the goal line. This year they added former Falcon Tevin Coleman, a talented rusher/receiver also not suited for a full load. There are a couple of other backs (Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson) who could get some play but have a lot of bodies ahead of them on the depth chart. Expect SF to use their backs situationally with nobody emerging as a stud. Gun to the head, take Breida, but don’t expect more than 800 yards and 6 TDs. The offense has struggled in the red zone but expect Garoppolo to spread the field and throw to backs around the goal line. He learned how to do that from the GOAT in New England and Shanahan operates that way too. This will add to Garoppolo’s upside. Similar to Darnold, draft Garoppolo as a backup if you can and you may find a gem. The 49ers defense is not likely to be drafted and can be looked at as a fill-in when they have a great matchup.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6) – The Seahawks did well last year once they found their identity as a running team. I expect them to slide back to 7-8 wins this year. The defense lost key players, others are currently injured or suspended. Pete Carroll will do well with what he has, but the decline on defense will put pressure on the offense making it hard for them to maintain a disciplined running game. The Seahawks have some worthy players but forecasting and relying on them will be a challenge. Best bet for now value-wise is RB Chris Carson. Last year he did not start the first two weeks and he was out two weeks with injuries. He still posted over 1,300 total yards and 9 TDs. He lost some time to Mike Davis (now in Chicago) but was a solid #1. He will be spelled by last year’s first round pick RB Rashaad Penny. Penny has the pedigree, but Carson continues to beat him out for the top job. Slot Carson as a mid-range RB2 in the late 3rd or 4th round. This bakes in a decline in performance. If you have a big roster and can stash Penny, all the better, but do it late, if at all. Someone may draft Penny expecting him to steal the job, but don’t value him that high. Seattle’s best WR Doug Baldwin retired, but Tyler Lockett had a breakout year last year. He will benefit from some of Baldwin’s targets and looks like a 1,100+ yard, 8-10 TD receiver. Seattle will have to get back to passing more so the opportunities should be there for him as a WR2. It bears mention that Wilson had a perfect QB rating when throwing to Lockett last year and that is unlikely to be repeated, but the increased target share should offset a decline in effectiveness. The other WR will probably be the Hawks’ first round pick D.K. Metcalf. Metcalf is a burner who will probably see some deep targets but not be consistent enough to generate fantasy value. QB Russell Wilson threw for less than 3,500 yards and did not rush for a score last year. That is the bad news. Good news: despite only throwing 27 times a game, he threw 35 TDs including 2+ TDs in 13/16. Wilson is a great QB but given all the options is now a back end QB1 rather than top 5. Don’t reach for him and have a backup. The three games he didn’t throw for 2 TDs were all wins, two against Arizona. If the Hawks are in a position where they can run, they will, so Wilson could suffer from volume issues. His tremendous efficiency masked it last year, but it may not do so again. Seattle has a few TEs, but the interesting one is Will Dissly who had two great games last year before tearing his patella. Consider him a high upside backup. The Seahawks defense is a long way from the Legion of Boom. While not yet the Legion of Poop, they are better suited to a platoon-or fill-in role than a weekly starter. Their performance last year was driven by a pass rush that is no longer there.
Tennessee Titans (9-7) – Mike Vrabel had a good first year as HC and he runs a disciplined squad that does not commit dumb penalties or beat themselves. He lost his OC to Green Bay and promoted from within to replace him, so there shouldn’t be a major overhaul, though maybe there should be. Marcus Mariota is in a make or break year. He started out well but has battled injury and not shown improvement. Tennessee beat both New England and Philadelphia last year and went 4-5 against playoff teams. This year’s schedule includes Ind (2x), LAC, KC, NO, Hou(2x), Atl and Cle so once again it won’t be easy. They are also missing their All-Pro LT Taylor Lewan for the first four games due to suspension. A drop back to seven wins wouldn’t surprise me. The Titans top fantasy player will be RB Derrick Henry. Henry lit up the league at the end of the season with 585 yards and 7 TDs in his last four games. Undoubtedly, he won some fantasy championships for his owners. Recency bias is playing an effect though as he has crept into the top 10 fantasy RB ranks on some lists. While he has been anointed the #1 in Tennessee (he split with Dion Lewis last year), he doesn’t catch passes and game flow (especially in light of the schedule) will reduce his effectiveness. He is still a back end RB1 elite RB2 at RB11-14. Dion Lewis will likely serve as an overpaid change of pace/3rd down back unless Henry gets hurt. Tennessee’s lackluster passing game hurts Corey Davis who has the tools to be a fantasy stud. As it is, he doesn’t see the ball consistently enough to be counted on. The Titans signed Adam Humphries from Tampa and he will probably lead the team in catches. He is a slot receiver with minimal upside. They also drafted A.J. Brown in the second round and he shows a lot of potential going forward, but probably not this year. Davis as a WR4 in the late rounds makes sense. Marcus Mariota only had 2+ scores in 5/15 games. He was more efficient in the red zone in his first two years than the last two and isn’t draftable. TE Delanie Walker is coming off an injury and at the tail end of his career, but he still should be drafted as a back end TE1 or backup. Not a lot of upside, but if he is in the lineup, he will see more opportunities than many TEs because they use him all over the field. Tennessee’s defense is a fill-in at best.
The “B” teams project to 7-9 wins, but some will turn into “A” teams. My bet is that Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Houston and Cleveland are the most likely of this group to reach or exceed 10 wins.
The “C” teams will follow in a few days and we will move on to draft strategy from there.
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